Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Class 9: 2/16- McKinny Falls/Krajcik and Blumenfeld/

Today Prudie Cain, our UTeach master teacher, started off class by reminding students about a field opportunity this weekend. Students have the option of attending a field trip to McKinney Falls to talk about how lessons can be planned around this site that meet state standards in a number of subjects and integrate technology tools available to them from UTeach.


Students were also reminded that they should be beginning observations out at Manor New Tech High School. They must complete one observation with an associated observation reflection, but they are encouraged to make multiple trips out to the school to see different classes on different days.


The majority of the class time today was used to discuss the Krajcik and Blumenfeld reading. Students compared and contrasted the essential elements of PBI as presented in Barron et al (1998) and Krajcik and Blumenfeld (2004). One of the elements students felt was missing from Krajcik’s paper was that of frequent assessment and feedback with opportunities for revision that Barron stresses. Students also had a thoughtful discussion of whether the process of creating an artifact truly requires students to “reconstruct” their understanding or simply requires them to externalize their knowledge. Another topic that generated lengthy discussion was that of so-called “cookbook labs” and whether they have utility in a science classroom.

Class 8: 2/14- Surprise quiz/More Jasper/TEKS Mapping

Class began today with a quiz over recent readings about the essential elements of Project-based instruction.


After the quiz was completed, Dr. Petrosino showed a video documenting teachers and students solving the Jasper “Rescue at Boone’s Meadow” problem that we had looked at last week. He also introduced the idea of analog problems that are different versions or extensions of the original problem. Surface level analogs address a different aspect of the same scenario, and the class viewed the fuel consumption, capacity and consumption, and headwinds and tailwinds analogs of the original problem. Conceptual analogs cover the same content within a different scenario, such as the Lindbergh question analog for the Jasper problem.


The class then discussed the Jasper problem. One student was critical of the data acquisition process (collecting information from a video), but others felt that it was engaging, allowed for interaction with technology, mirrored real world problems, and allowed for teaching about functions and variables if students lacked information.


The class felt that the middle school classroom in this video was less teacher-focused than the average classroom, and they saw less lecture and fewer worksheets than they would have expected. Dr. Petrosino pointed out that the format of the problem and the class allowed for greater participation by students who were perhaps less skilled at reading. The class wondered about whether older students would be as engaged in doing problems like this, though they acknowledged it was a good alternative to lecture, and felt that grouping would be especially important with secondary students.


Dr. Petrosino told the class that kids who had a year of math curriculum that was primarily focused on Jasper problems reported not having had a math class that year even though assessments showed significant math gains. This classroom was so fundamentally different from their conception of what a math class is that they did not recognize it as such.


The contextualization that is exemplified by the Jasper problems is based in cognitive psychology. Novices in any subject have trouble distinguishing important from trivial information. The essential question we are asking is can we go from a complex problem and work backwards into the basic facts, or do we have to go from basics to complexity?


Dr. Petrosino ended class by talking briefly through the Jasper problem planning net and a mapping of TEKS to the problem.

Class 7: 2/9- Barron et al (1995)/Jasper/"Big P-little p"

We began class today with a discussion of Barron et al (1998). In this paper, four critical aspects of project-based instruction are identified:






-Learning appropriate goals

-Scaffolds for learning

-Frequent feedback and revision

-Social structures that support participatory practices



Students had some questions about the distinction between the problem-based learning identified by Barron as a scaffolding tool and project-based learning. Some of the differences identified were the scale, purpose, and timing.

Dr. Petrosino asked the students to list some of the characteristics that are generally associated with the common usage of the word “project.” Students listed: build something, beginning middle end, using hands, extended time period, takes creativity, research. He contrasted these to the attributes that Barron et al provide, and introduced students to the terms “little p project” and “Big P Project.”

Little p projects are activities that lack the proper pedagogy and scaffolding to facilitate real learning, but may look on face as though they are projects. Big P Projects are founded in solid pedagogy and are more effective for student learning. Dr. Petrosino noted that because PBI is becoming fashionable in education, there is a lot of little p going on in schools.

For the rest of class, students were put in groups of three to work on the “Rescue at Boone’s Meadow” Jasper problem. This problem begins with a video that introduces a scenario in which students must optimize travel time to a location and back given the constraints that are presented throughout the video.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Class 5: 2/2- Eratosthenes and the Circumference of the Earth Problem

Dr. Petrosino began class today by giving students approximately 15 minutes to work on a circumference of the earth problem. Approximately half of the class worked in pairs, while the other half worked alone. After time was up, some students shared their work with the class. Many groups approached this problem in the same way, though at least two individuals who worked alone became stuck quickly and were unable to get very far. Another individual observed that she was very engaged at first, but when she realized she was going to get stuck because she had no calculator, her attention wandered.


He asked the students to recall the ten-question quiz they took at the end of the previous class period, and showed them the results. The students did quite well on this quiz, which covered most of the necessary facts they needed to know to solve the circumference problem. A student observed that the hardest part of a problem is the initial deconstruction and planning; when the problem is already broken down into components (as on the quiz) it is easy to supply the information from memory. In other words, it was not the skills that were the problem, but rather when to use those skills.


Dr. Petrosino made the argument that the quiz from Monday was “TAKS-like” in that it mimicked the form and question type of a typical standardized test. It indicated that the students have high algorithmic and factual knowledge. The circumference problem students were given today, however, was something else.


This country is very good at factual knowledge like the quiz; we are good at worksheets and studying facts for a test. Instructionally, teaching factual knowledge is easy and can be done by computer programs, individuals with no training, or anyone who possesses the right series of facts. Teaching factual knowledge doesn’t require insight into cognition, assessment, reasoning, innovation, or creativity.


The back-of-the-envelope problems from Monday and the circumference problems today require more conceptual knowledge and transfer, which is what students typically are not getting in a classroom focused on standardized test performance.


Dr. Petrosino posed the question to the students, “How is it that we are hindered when we think about a problem that someone solved thousands of years ago?” and encouraged the students to think how they want to teach: as they were taught, with high emphasis on facts, or do they want to integrate complexity and creativity?


He added that they should look back at their own education appreciatively and critically and think about the kind of teaching they want to do. How do you move our instruction from being factually based to being conceptual and transfer based?


Sara finished class today by walking students through a sample rubric that would build a rubric around the Eratosthenes problem in order to create a mathematics unit. Students found the idea interesting, but were constrained by the idea that math must be taught in sequence (e.g., algebra, geometry, algebra II, etc).